9 Tips on Getting the Most out of a Conference

Attending a business conferenceIf you're like me and work in a small department, conferences are an incredible opportunity to learn about what's new in your field and meet people who do similar work. I went to my first two professional conferences this year, the Click Asia Summit in Mumbai and Ad-tech in New York. I was extremely excited to meet speakers I've read and heard of, people doing incredible things in marketing, and just meet a group of fellow marketers and chat with them about challenges we all face.

But if you have a tight budget (and who doesn't?) conferences, including traveling to them and staying at hotels, can be extremely expensive. So how do you make the most of every single industry event you attend?

1.  Find the best events

This is obvious, but also probably the most important. With so many events in the year, which one(s) give you the most bang for your buck? Research online, read blog posts on the last year's events, and ask people (both on Twitter and your real-life colleagues). What are your objectives? What do you want to learn about? What kind of people do you want to meet? Figure all this out and then check out which event makes the most sense for you.{C}

2.  Plan in advance

Register for the event and book hotels and flights early to get better rates. Make sure you give yourself enough time to familiarize yourself to a new place (assuming it's a new place), recover from jet-lag (if you're traveling that far), and schedule any follow-up meetings after the conference (if networking is an important objective).

3.  Research speakers, exhibits and attendees

I've spent hours poring over session descriptions, speaker bios and exhibitor lists. I found the interesting ones on Twitter or their blogs and read up about them. It helps me figure out who I want to talk to and which sessions I definitely want to attend. And if a blogger you read is one of the speakers, you know you've got to go meet them. (I've done it more than once, and it gives me a great high to meet a blogger I admire in person.) If the event publishes attendee lists, make sure to go over that as well. You could join LinkedIn groups created around the event and participate in conversations even before the event.

4.  Connect with speakers and attendees before the conference

So now you know which bloggers are speaking, reach out to them on Twitter and tell them how excited you are that you'll be seeing them in person. Follow the hashtags of the event, and connect with fellow attendees. Especially do this if you're going alone: you might even make a friend even before you turn up at the event, and you'll be less scared awkward standing alone.

5.  Pay attention and take notes

Because your memory isn't going to hold everything you hear, trust me and write down (or type in) everything. You not only want to make sure you follow up on what you learn, you might also have want to make a report to the folks back at the office.

6.  Participate

Excuse me for sounding like a school teacher, but participate in the class! Ask questions, raise your hand when the speaker asks for volunteers for exercises or role-plays. (But don't be that obnoxious guy who has a question in every session and can't shut up once he gets the mike in hand. Only speak up if you actually have something to contribute.)

7.  Tweet and blog

I am a big believer in live-tweeting sessions. For one, it's something to do when a session isn't all that riveting. You share the knowledge with folks who might not be attending (and it's a nice way of bragging that you are). Third, as long as you're using the hashtag, other people in the conference will follow you.

What's a little more work but very effective at getting you more visibility, especially among fellow attendees and speakers you link to, is to blog (or even better, live-blog) the sessions.

8.  Network

This is especially for fellow introverts: don't sit quietly in your corner during the sessions and hide in the restroom during lunch hour. Between sessions, talk to people near you in the conference hall. Sit at a stranger's table at lunch. Just for one day, pretend you're not an introvert at all but that you actually want to talk to other people.

And don't forget to check out the exhibit halls! That's a great way to learn about what's new in your industry and you might meet some cool people.

9.  Stay in touch

Send out LinkedIn invites within a day or two after you've met someone. If they have a Twitter profile, don't forget to follow them. Write thank-you emails to people you especially liked meeting or really want to keep in touch with. And keep in touch: a Twitter mention every few weeks or a blog comment isn't too much work!

What are your top tips for getting the most out of a conference?


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